Citizens in the small, strategically located Horn of Africa nation of Djibouti headed to the polls on Friday, and were expected to return President Ismael Omar Guelleh to office for a fifth term. Guelleh, 73, faces one challenger in the election: little-known businessman Zakarya Ismail Farah. Other opposition figures are boycotting the election.
Guelleh has ruled Djibouti for 21 years, making him one of Africa’s longest-ruling leaders. Djibouti amended its constitution in 2010, removing presidential term limits, but set a maximum age for presidential candidates of 75.
Farah has charged that his delegates were being barred from observing polling stations and thus ensuring a free, fair election.
Despite running periodic elections, Djibouti’s government is widely considered to be an authoritarian regime with a poor human rights record. Human Rights Watch accuses Guellah of repeatedly restricting the media and civil liberties. According to the think tank Freedom House, “while Djibouti technically has a multiparty political system, the ruling Union for a Presidential Majority (UMP) uses authoritarian means to maintain its dominant position. The opposition’s ability to operate is severely constrained, and journalists and activists who air criticism of Guelleh or the UMP are regularly harassed or arrested.”